Wii in PE? If it gets you moving

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some days you may not feel like going to PE, but would you ever groan about playing Wii?

You probably said no to that question, which is why some schools are starting to use active video games such as Wii and Dance Dance Revolution as one part of their physical education programs.

For years, video games have been considered part of the obesity problem for kids: When you're sitting on the couch playing games, you aren't running around or riding your bike. But active video games get kids to move around, sometimes a lot. And it's usually exercise kids enjoy.

"If you're not an athlete, you generally are not going to have a good time in PE," said Todd Miller, who teaches exercise science at George Washington University. "But if you do something like Dance Dance Revolution, you can play the most athletic person in the class and still win."

Some local students have had the chance to test this theory. Miller used a group of sixth-graders at Francis-Stevens Education Campus, a public school in the District, to study the amount of exercise kids got playing two different video games as well as during regular PE class. The kids wore special belts that tracked the calories they burned and were also asked how much they enjoyed the games and how hard they were.

Miller said video games can't replace a PE program but can help make it more appealing - and effective - for all kids.

During one session run by Miller's research assistants last month, it was clear how four students felt about leaving a well-organized dodgeball game in the regular gym to go play video games in a smaller gym.

"It's just fun. It's exciting, and you move around a lot," said Dominique Butler, 12, after playing a video game called Winds of Orbis. To play, you have to run, jump and punch your way though an on-screen obstacle course full of monsters. "Sometimes you can be exhausted when you're finished," he said.

Nearby, his classmate Chrystian Dowe, 11, was sweating after finishing 20 minutes of dancing wildly on a Dance Dance Revolution mat. "It's more exercise than dodgeball," he said.

A different study was conducted recently on overweight teenagers in the District using the Wii version of the game Sports Active. Researchers Sandra Calvert and Amanda Staiano of Georgetown University studied kids who played various games competitively and in groups, and found the activity helped the kids lose weight, feel better about themselves and even focus better.

"We hear so many negative things about gaming," Calvert said. "Here's something very positive for all of us to look at."

- Margaret Webb Pressler

© 2011 The Washington Post Company